Thursday, December 28, 2017

Six Months Later


December marks 6 months...I have been 'home' for 6 months now!  I'm not sure why, but this seems sort of monumental.  For those of you who have experienced transition before, maybe you know what I'm talking about.  It's like that feeling you get after hiking a trail in the mountains.  You're sore as all get out, but you can look back and smile because you made it.  Of course, I am also anticipating the trail ahead.  But for this moment right now, I just want to thank God, to reflect on the last 6 months, and to share with you how faithful my God is.  My prayer is that you would see Jesus in a new light and that you would "praise God because of me." (Galatians 1:24)


I got a job in August as a building substitute.  Not ideal, but a job nonetheless.  Thank you, God.  I wasn't looking for anything else, but in October an opportunity opened up for me to teach ESL (English as a Second Language).  And I love it.  Thank you, God.  Again, I wasn't looking, but an opportunity to move came up and I now live with another Christian.  On a farm.  Thank you, God.  He used my experience in Niger teaching kids of multiple ethnicities.  He remembered my childlike desire to always live on a farm.  He knows me.  He sees me.  He cares for me.


On June 11th, after over 36 hours of traveling, I descended the escalator in the Pittsburgh airport, greeted by my family who wore matching African outfits.  It wasn't hard to find them, as they stood in a postcard picture perfect group holding a "Welcome Home Hannah!" sign.  You see a lot of crazy things in an airport, but this group whom I call "my people" stood out.  They looked different, out of place amongst the Americans wearing traditional summer garb.  Perhaps that's a good picture for how I've felt for the past 6 months - like I stand out somehow, just a bit awkward, or out of place.

It took awhile for life to feel ordinary when I moved to Niger, and in some ways, I don't know that it ever fully reached "normal."  Camels and bush taxis ready to tip were still exciting to see.  The dirt and haze and dust storms never stopped being strange.  And even by year 3, I still loved to stay up in the middle of the night to listen to a good African thunderstorm.

I feel the same way about life in America.  Some things felt "ordinary" right away.  But even after 6 months, there are still some things I haven't gotten used to.  I see something new and different every time I go grocery shopping, there are SO many options.  I can't bring myself to wear leggings as pants, though it seems to be the style here in America.  The number and different kinds of Christmas decorations is outrageous.


I really struggled.  At first.  All my community was suddenly taken from me.  The people who knew me best were no longer living with me.  The people I laughed with and shared life with were gone.  The hardest part about coming to PA was that it didn't feel like home.  It was supposed to feel like home, I thought it would feel like home.  But it didn't.  And there were 3 years between me and the people I knew when I left.

Being with family again was just as refreshing as the lush green Pennsylvania scenery all around me. And yet at the same time, I felt unknown.  I noticed something funny about this when I went to the annual family reunion this year. I obviously haven't been able to attend for the past 3 years, but this year, I was excited and a bit nostalgic because I was finally on the right side of the pond for Labor Day.  So when I arrived, why did I still feel empty?  It wasn't that I was ungrateful for my family or even that I didn't want to be there.  But much of my "family" was still in Niger.  The people who had become family to me were across an ocean, too far away for inside jokes and games.

These were the quiet moments, unnoticed by most, when I mourned and grieved the loss of meaningful community.  There were quite a few of these moments at the start of my return, some easier to recognize than others.  They tell you to take time to grieve when you come back, but sometimes grief isn't something you can schedule.  It just happens.

Culture Shock

My first Sunday back at church proved to be a bit shocking.  The kind of shock that makes it hard to smile or even talk to a friend.  However, you have to know where I came from to properly understand.  I went to a small church in the backyard of the pastor.  An open-air pavilion, if you can even call it that - tin roof and straw mats with sand floors.  We had a choir and a piano and someone always played the djembe drums.  Even though it usually lasted about 3 hours, the service was simple.  It was like family - welcoming new visitors, listening to praises and prayer requests, and we always shared a simple meal of rice and beans when it was finished.  The breaking of bread with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now imagine my shock when I stepped foot in this American church.  TV screens and monitors, cameras and equipment.  There was a baptism the next week, so naturally the full-sized pool was ready to go, along with boats and docks and life vests scattered across the stage for thematic flare.  I sang.  I listened.  But I didn't feel home.  I didn't know most of the people there.  After 7 years, much of the congregation had changed.  So naturally, even though I was dying to tell my story, there weren't too many people with questions.  Most of my summer felt like this.  I was shocked and out of place.

To the Point

Despite culture shock and grief, God shone through.  He sent people to encourage me, ask me questions, and mostly just listen.  These sweet divine appointments were small things that showed God's great care for me.  I hope you know God like that.

I was hurting at times, but that didn't stop God from being a good good Father.  The Lord's provision for me is reflective of his tender care and intimate knowledge of his children.  I am continually challenged to trust God more, and every time I do, I find Him the same.  Though I ebb and flow, He never changes.  He holds my future and I have nothing to worry about.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  -Matthew 6:33-34

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